and need its dependence and to understand that that was what life was about and nothing else mattered. Nor had I, so at the time neither of us realized the true significance of her accident. Only that she’d been so incredibly lucky. 

Chapter 3

Vivien, a Small Dog and the Missing Furniture

This full-length arched window at the end of the first-floor landing, where I’m still waiting for Vivi, is my lookout. I know it might sound funny but sometimes I think of the house as my ship, myself as its captain, and here I’m at the helm, in charge of its course and direction. I can see who’s coming up to the house, who’s walking their dogs on the footpath running up to the ridge and what’s about to come down the lane from the top of the hill. For instance, I can tell you that every day, at eight in the morning, the woman from East Lodge—I don’t know her name—takes her collie up to the ridge. Sometimes, not often, she’ll glance this way when she gets to the bit that curves into view of the house, but she doesn’t know I’m watching her—I make sure I’ve pulled back against the pillar in time. I feel in control in this captain’s post: I see what I want to see and nobody sees me.

I have two other strategic lookouts. From my bedroom window I can see the church, the postbox in the wall on the other side, the lane leading up to the rectory and Peverill’s bustling farmyard. From the bathroom I can see directly south to the brook and beyond to the peach houses, and to the Stables where Michael lives, the other gate houses and the lane that leads to them.

I don’t venture out much anymore. It’s unnecessary. Michael, who used to garden for us with his father, buys my groceries and does the odd job, like putting out the rubbish at the end of the drive. I don’t employ him anymore so I don’t know if he does it out of kindness or duty, but he’s the only person I see close up these days, even though I spend hours watching the daily turns of the village from a distance. Bulburrow’s houses are clustered in a valley bowl and from my three vantage points I can see them all, except a couple of new bungalows built halfway up the lane to the north. If I’m at the helm of a ship, then Bulburrow Court is at the helm of the village, the central control tower from which the rest can be monitored and directed.

When Vivi and I were growing up, we knew every single person in every single house, but I don’t know any of them now. The ones we knew have died and their children moved away. It’s one of the problems with getting old: the more people you outlive, the more your life reads like a catalog of other people’s deaths.

Poor Vera, our housekeeper, was the first person I can remember dying. It took her four months. Maud said that, really, she blew up slowly and eventually burst. Vivi and I weren’t allowed to visit her in her north-wing room, as Maud said it might give us nightmares, but I’m certain we had much worse ones just imagining what Vera’s death looked like. But it was Maud’s death that had the biggest impact on our lives. It was pain-free, although probably not as dignified as she’d have liked. She tripped down the cellar steps. But afterwards our lives changed direction forever. That was when Vivi left this house for the last time and she hasn’t been back since. It’s quite a thing, you know; she was twenty-one when I last saw her, not much more than a child. I was twenty- four.

My reverie is disturbed by the even hum of a modern car slowing down the hill and fading, then rising again in this direction, and I can tell it’s cruising up the drive. It must be her. Not many people come up the drive these days. Mostly it’s strangers who’ve taken a wrong turning and quickly reverse or turn round again at the top. Then there are the sort who have recently been coming more and more, in their tall, smart cars. They bang the door knocker, and when I don’t respond, they go away and come back later with a letter asking if I’ll sell up. Why on earth do they think I’ll want to start moving house now? Once a month the woman in the stripy bobble hat walks up the drive. She’s from Social Services, and when she gets no answer to her knock, she leaves her calling card and a pile of leaflets. I like to flick through them—it keeps me in touch with at least some of what’s going on in the world—and all the junk advertising that comes through the door: offers on credit cards, holidays to win, how to switch my fuel supplier, or the free Diamond Advertiser, which they don’t always bother to bring up the drive. I used to have a radio but it never worked very well so I got rid of it.

It’s the leaflets from the bobble-hat woman that I find the most interesting, and relevant. It’s how I know, for instance, that my gnarled joints and blotchy fingers, my loss of appetite, low energy, dry eyes and mouth are all part of my rheumatoid arthritis and that I should be eating a lot of green-lipped mussels. It’s how I know that, because I have “flares” followed by “remissions,” my case is fairly mild at the moment but will get a lot worse when it becomes chronic. Then it will be permanently painful and I’ll have to have the joints “popped” to let out some of the excess synovial fluid and I don’t like the sound of that at all.

A silver car rounds into view. It is broad and long and low, and purrs with an air of quality and arrogance. Vivien had told me when she would arrive, but not how. The car makes a wide sweep of the drive’s circular frontage and comes to a standstill alongside the front door, as horse-drawn carriages would have done when Maud was a girl. My heart is beating so hard that when the engine cuts, the sound of hollow thudding fills the silence, and I’ve just realized I never truly believed until right now that she was going to come at all. At the same time I wonder—for a fleeting moment—if I really want her to. But then the thought is gone. She’s coming back because she needs me now. After all, I’m her older sister.

The driver’s door opens. Why is everything happening so slowly? Perhaps it’s true that time is slowed by a quicker heartbeat, like the mayfly, with one hundred wing beats per second, which can fulfill a lifetime in a day. I imagine a young Vivi getting out, the girl I remember her as, quite forgetting I should be expecting someone I won’t recognize. Instead, out steps a young man, no more than twenty-five, with thick dark hair and a smart blue suit. I’m stunned. Where’s Vivi? Perhaps he has nothing to do with Vivi at all. My wave of excitement crashes around me. Has he the wrong house? Another person come to offer to buy it from me, leaving an obsequious letter when there’s no answer? But instead of coming towards the porch, the man walks round the car and opens its back door, the one nearest the house. Now I know she’s here.

A decorative walking stick is thrust out of the car onto the muddy gravel, the man holds out his arm and, leaning on the stick with one hand and taking the young man’s arm with the other, Vivien emerges, guided like royalty. My face is pressed to the window but she is too close to the house for me to see her clearly. All I can see is the top of her head, gray like mine, but while my hair is long and lies flat against my head, hers is cropped short and obviously shaped. She walks to the back of the car, stops and faces the house. She plants the stick firmly on the ground in front of her, both hands resting on the pommel at the top, one over the other, her feet slightly apart for balance, and surveys Bulburrow Court. All the while the young man is collecting bags and boxes and hangers of clothes wrapped in plastic, and piling them outside the car. Vivien takes in the house slowly, looking crossways from one side to the other. I can imagine what she is seeing: the windows, a few cracked, others smashed with boards replacing the glass; gargoyles, exact copies of those from Carlisle’s twelfth-century cathedral, whose farcical grimaces scared us as children; the corbels that hold up the porch; escutcheons carved under the mullioned windows, the battlements above. It is easy to imagine what she can see, but what memories does every window of each room stir in her? What emotions do the dark gray haunting stones bring, or the enormous quoins at the base of the house, each made from a solid piece of granite, the almighty foundation stones of our lives, holding up for generations the framework of our ancestry?

As she is gripped in her consideration of the house, so I am gripped by watching her from above, all at once desperate to know what is going through her mind.

Her head lifts as she studies each section slowly, methodically even, and I am about to make out more of her features when her eyes begin to run diagonally, crosswise, towards the top of the porch, and up, to the arch of my window…. I pull back into the shadows before she spots me, but as I do, it strikes me that I have seen a ghost. Maud. I hadn’t expected that. I hadn’t even tried to imagine what Vivien would look like but I’d never considered she’d be so like Maud. I feel like a little girl again. I don’t dare look out of the window now for fear that I will meet Maud’s all-knowing eyes. I’m numbed with indecision, for a moment paralyzed. I can’t tell you how many minutes go by before I am slowly aware that the goat’s-head knocker is being rattled from side to side (rather than banged as a stranger would do).

I glance at my clothes. I’ve been so busy wondering what Vivien would look like that I haven’t considered the impression she’ll have of me. I’m thinking now of how I might appear to her, but because I never check myself

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